Addendum to ‘Where Swearing Happens’

Coaches, by nature, don’t tolerate a lot of nonsense. It’s part of the job description. After all, they spend the bulk of their time cultivating a standard of professionalism among their players that will theoretically translate into game-time success.

This might be at least partially why so many coaches speak (and likely think) using the vapid lexicon of sports clichés. They drone on and on about abstract concepts like effort, defensive intensity, execution on offense, urgency, tempo, and so on.

Furthermore, players, coaches, and the media are all equally complicit when it comes to the types of empty exchanges that define the status quo of post-game interviews and press conferences, which is why it’s so refreshing when a coach or player goes off script and says something candid or forthright.

For obvious reasons, this sort of rogue activity is more or less universally discouraged by coaching staff and team brass, both of whom share a responsibility to protect the team’s brand. In fact, in the interest of avoiding just the types of gaffes that threaten to undermine an organization’s public image, incoming rookies and sophomores are assigned mandatory seminars on how to navigate the relentless and unforgiving gauntlet of the press. The result is a sort of dull consistency to the exchange – pointless questions followed by carefully rehearsed responses that are nearly indistinguishable around the league.

That’s why we love it, for instance, when someone like Gregg Popovich – a notoriously taciturn man to begin with – stares holes right through an otherwise widely-respected veteran reporter like David Aldridge (who admittedly should know better) after he trots out a magnificently hollow term like “happy” in a luckless attempt to ascertain the coach’s general temperament toward the game in-progress.

Nobody is better than Coach Pop at calling attention to the media’s absurdity. He doesn’t suffer fools lightly, and his scathing responses, deadpan delivery, and palpable contempt help break the spell cast over any media event and consequently demand a higher level of discourse. Ask him what his strategy is for any given game, and he’s liable to respond with “score more points than the other team.” Ask him why they just lost a game, and he’ll most likely say “because the ball didn’t go in the hole.”

Popovich notwithstanding, the NBA’s grizzled media stalwarts are mostly impervious to the insipid line of inquiry customarily on display in post-game pressers, but even someone like the usually unflappable Phil Jackson was not wholly immune to the occasional lapse of etiquette. Exhibit:

Given the general tenor of post-game press conferences, it must take a near-Herculean effort on behalf of the coaches and players not to unleash a maelstrom of profanities on the attending masses. When the media zombies aren’t drooling with toothless, empty-headed questions, they are predominately in passive-aggressive mode, courting controversy wherever they can via gossip and rumors and needling criticisms, the tediousness of which is surpassed only by its cynicism.

Admittedly, it can be maddening just how boorish and aphoristic some coaches can be. They have to exercise a tremendous amount of restraint when it comes to dealing with the media, and are tasked with being the default ambassador of their franchise, and even a minor P.R. misstep can reflect poorly on the team and result in any number of unexpected consequences, so the fact that they have to sit through so many insufferable interviews and offer stock replies to seemingly endless rounds of questioning tends to create an atmosphere of repressed hostility. Ergo, those rare and glorious occasions when somebody actually blows their top.

Just watch as George Karl is subjected to a bafflingly convoluted accusation and, to his credit, tries to keep his composure and wait patiently for the reporter to finish before striking back a well-earned invective. (Go to the 3:58 minute mark below)

And who can forget the delicious irony of Rasheed Wallace’s “both teams played hard” interview, a response that brilliantly subverted decorum by employing just the type of worn-out cliché that is designed to passive-aggressively evade questions, with the added effect of making his displeasure known while simultaneously avoiding saying anything that might earn him a fine.

During an 82-game slog, someone is bound to lose their cool, and this year so far, we’ve seen Mike D’Antoni get a little…well…defensive…after being criticized about his team’s defensive struggles and Russell Westbrook, dressed in what appears to some sort of bovine-patterned shirt, not take kindly to being admonished by an equally clownishly-attired Craig Sager.

Make no mistake, all parties involved are prone to general dickishness, but more often than not, reporters get what they ask for. Poking the bear is part of the routine. Whatever it takes to get a quote for press time, and the more salacious the better.

The fact that everyone is aware of this dynamic only adds to the tension, so as the season winds down and the playoffs loom large and the storylines grow that much more fraught with intrigue, you can be sure that tempers will continue to flare, and the question is not if, but rather when and who will be the next in line for their own personal public meltdown.

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